African Americans have always made music that’s uniquely their own, whether by design or accident. This can be traced back to the music that slaves sang to pass the time working in the fields, which eventually became the Blues.
Motown, Soul Music, and Hip-Hop are well-known genres featuring famous black singers and musicians. But, one genre where most people wouldn’t expect to find many African Americans is Country Music.
However, it might surprise you to learn that there are plenty of great black Country singers and musicians out there. So, I’ve decided to take a look at a few of the most famous black Country singers, starting with…
Top 8 Most Famous Black Country Singers
I know that Ray Charles isn’t what comes into your mind when you think of Country Music. But any hardcore fan will tell you that his early years were spent in a Country band called The Playboys. The group gave regular performances and toured extensively during its brief but fantastic existence.
The influence of Country music on Ray’s sound is undeniable…
He paid homage to this to this influence in 1962, with the release of Modern Sounds In Country and Western Music vol. 1 & 2. These albums helped Ray’s career rise to new heights as he began to get airplay on a wide variety of stations, including Pop, Rock, and Country radio.
The albums also exposed him to a whole new world of fans. They challenged racial borders, which at that point, were beginning thin due to the Civil Rights movement. Ray’s place in the annals of music history was solidified by these seminal works.
A career of genius and greatness…
Ray’s contributions to music earned him 18 Grammys (five of which he won posthumously). He also won a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award and was inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, The Black Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame, as well as the Country Music Hall of Fame, proving his country credentials.
Billy Joel was once quoted as saying, “This may sound like sacrilege, but I think Ray Charles was more important than Elvis Presley.” So, there’s no question that Ray Charles is one of the most famous black Country singers of all time.
Some oddballs have come from the world of the arts, and Cleve Francis is one of them. He was already a physician in his 40s with a successful cardiology practice. But, then music came waving the flag of opportunity.
Francis was hesitant at first…
He didn’t think it was a sensible move to be making at that time of his life. Thanks to a friend, he was convinced to at least give it a try. And, boy, are we glad he did.
Cleve ended up going to Nashville in the 90s and signing with Liberty (which is now called Capitol). He became one of a handful of black artists who had a deal with a major label at the time.
Francis was fascinated by music from a young age…
So much so that he even tried to craft a guitar out of a cigar box. He got his first guitar shortly after and was soon performing at the local coffee shop, much to the admiration of onlookers.
Francis recorded five albums and managed to appear on the Billboard Charts four times. His biggest singles were “Love Light,” “You Do My Heart Good,” and “Walkin’.”
His story didn’t end there, though…
Cleve became head of The Black Country Music Association and continued to perform with a band well into his 60s. He was even scheduled for some performances recently, but the COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to many of those shows.
To this day, Cleve continues to be an inspiration to aspiring black musicians in any field, not just Country Music. So, of course, he is regarded as one of the best black Country music singers.
Troy Lee Coleman III was at university when his friends started calling him Cowboy Troy. This was because there were quite a few Troys in the group, and well, he always wore a cowboy hat.
He is described by most as being a pioneer and one of the foremost representatives of the Country Rap genre. His unique term for what he does is “Hick-Hop.” And, while he did not invent the genre, he’s undoubtedly one of the main contributors to its mainstream exposure.
In May of 2005…
Cowboy Troy dropped his first album, Loco Motive, through RAYBABY and Warner Brothers. The album managed to climb to #2 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart.
This was thanks in no small part to the smash single “I Play Chicken with the Train.” It became the most downloaded Country song from iTunes at the time. And it is still considered his biggest hit.
Troy has collaborated with numerous artists…
Most notably, Gretchen Wilson and Big & Rich. In collaboration with the latter, Troy released “Our America,” which enjoyed moderate success in the charts.
Cowboy Troy was featured in Vanilla Ice’s 2011 album, WTF, and co-hosted the fifth season of “Dancing with the Stars.” He has released seven albums to date but has been inactive from music for a few years now.
Lesley’s name is synonymous with two things when it comes to music. Firstly, the unique pickling style he developed for the guitar. He did this during recovery from a leg injury he experienced while working at a cement plant.
Secondly, the Carter Family Band, with whom he did many recordings and composed many great songs. He met A.P. Carter in 1928, and soon a friendship was born.
The two musicians would travel the countryside trying to collect songs. While one of them would memorize the melody, the other would write down the lyrics.
Riddle soon began composing tracks of his own…
These were then performed and sometimes recorded with the Carter Family Band, and some of his original work includes “The Cannon Ball,” “Hello Stranger,” “I Know What It Means To Be Lonesome,” “Let the Church Roll On,” and “Bear Creek Blues.”
His unique guitar style became known around the country. Eventually, Maybelle Carter would incorporate it into her style of play. This made Lesley one of the most important black Country musicians of all time.
He retired from music in 1945…
But, his influence would continue to grow. Nearly twenty years after he stopped playing music, he was tracked down by Mike Seeger. Mike had learned of Lesley while working with Maybelle Carter and wanted to resurrect the legacy. Also, to learn from someone whom he regarded as a legend. Mike and Lesley would end up making a string of recordings over the next decade. Many of these were compiled on the album Step By Step.
Lesley has since become a mythical figure in Country music and remains an inspiration for aspiring black musicians all over the world. And he is easily one of the most famous black Country singers ever.
Mickey was raised in Arlington, Texas, and was used to moving around a lot since her father was an engineer. She loved music as a youngster and often sang in church choirs. Despite her talent, she was still subject to racial discrimination as a child and an adult.
While studying business at Santa Monica College, she worked multiple jobs. Including being a backup singer for other artists and doing demo records. She then moved to Los Angeles, where she met producers who prompted her to move to Nashville.
There she auditioned for UMG Nashville’s Charman, Mike Dungan. She subsequently became the first black female artist to have a major label deal in the Country genre. One of her first performances was at the White House with the likes of Kris Kristofferson, Lyle Lovett, Darius Rucker, and James Taylor.
Mickey released her first single, “Better Than You Left Me,” which managed to garner some chart success. It also earned her a nomination from the Academy of Country Music Awards. Later that same year, she released her debut self-titled EP.
In 2020, she jumped back into the spotlight with her seminal release “Black Like Me.” The track related her experiences not only as a black woman in a white male-dominated music genre but as a black American.
The track earned her a nomination for Best Country Solo Performance. She was the first black woman ever to be nominated for the award. As a result, she is one of the most well known black Country singers working today.
Later in 2020…
Mickey collaborated with Canadian artist Dean Brody on the track “Boys.” It became #1 in Canada, making Guyton the first black woman to achieve a #1 hit on the chart.
She released her last album, Remember Her Name, in 2021. The album has been noted for its mixture of Country and R&B, which can be said to sit at the heart of Guyton’s sound.
Kane Allen Brown was born to a white mother and an African American father. His mother mainly raised him with the help of his grandmother. The family moved around a lot, and young Brown would often get into fights at school. These fights were usually the result of some kind of discrimination.
He grew up listening to Country Music and R&B. But, he decided to focus on Country after he won an 11th-grade talent show with a cover of Chris Young’s “Gettin’ You Home.”
After one of his school friends, Lauren Alaina (American Idols Runner-Up), Brown went to audition for both Idols and X-Factor. He was accepted but left when they asked him to be in a boy band.
Kane started posting covers of other artists on YouTube. He also started making videos himself for Facebook. One of his early successes was a cover of Lee Brice’s “I Don’t Dance.”
In 2015, his cover of George Strait’s “Check Yes or No” got more than seven million streams. That gained him an even larger following. And, by the time he dropped his first original single, “I Used To Love You Sober,” it was viewed 11 million times in two weeks.
He has since released a chart-topping EP purely through money he made via crowdfunding. And he followed that up with a string of platinum singles and successful albums. In 2017, he became the first artist ever to have #1 on all five main Billboard Country Charts at the same time.
Rhiannon Giddens graduated from Oberlin Conservatory at Oberlin College in 2000, having studied opera. She wasted no time, and by 2005, she formed her first group, The Chocolate Drops.
The group had a new sound that came from throwing together various African music, Country, old-school Blues, Caribbean, and sometimes even Spoken Word.
The Chocolate Drops were all proficient at playing their own instruments as well as each others. So, seeing them swap instruments during performances was a regular occurrence. Among the sounds they employed were a banjo, a fiddle, a guitar, a harmonica, bones, jugs, and kazoos.
That is some kind of stage show!
The Chocolate Drops received critical acclaim and opened for the likes of Taj Mahal and Bob Dylan. They also won a Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album. Since then, she has been a member of GaelWynd, Our Native Daughters, and the Bob Dylan tribute project, The New Basement. The latter group takes unknown Bob Dylan lyrics and sets them to new music and rhythms.
Rhiannon has also released two solo albums that feature many great artists. And she continues to perform regularly at festivals around the world. In 2020, she became Artistic Director of cross-cultural music organization, Silkroad.
Darius Carlos Rucker hails from South Carolina, and according to him, he had a very typical African American upbringing which consists mostly of fond memories. His family members attest to him wanting to be a singer for as long as they can remember.
Before launching his musical career, Darius was living in the Sigma Phi Epsilon house basement at the University of South Carolina, where a friend heard him singing in the shower. This subsequently led to the formation of his first band, Hootie & The Blowfish.
Darius remains the group’s lead singer to this day, and he has recorded six albums with them. The group has managed to chart within the Billboard Hot 100 six times, and all six songs were co-written by Rucker.
As an artist…
Darius has not been without controversy. He received death threats and much criticism over his song “Drowning.” That’s because it opposed flying the Confederate flag above the State House in South Carolina.
In contrast, his career has been paved with fantastic opportunities as well. For example, he sang “The Lady Is a Tramp” at Frank Sinatra’s 80th birthday party.
Darius was the first African American to be awarded the Best New Artist award by the Country Music Association. He also has two Grammys under his belt and a bunch of #1 singles to back it up. He is one of the most successful black Country musicians of the 20th century.
Looking for Incredible Country Music?
Well, have a look at our detailed articles on the Best Country Love Songs, the Best 90s Country Songs, the Best Country Karaoke Songs, the Best Country Singers with Deep Voices, and the Best Bluegrass Songs for more great song selections.
Of course, you need to listen to those tunes. So, check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Headphones for Music, the Most Comfortable Headphones, the Best Sound Quality Earbuds, the Best iPhone Earbuds, as well as the Best Wireless Bluetooth Headphones that you can buy in 2023.
Most Famous Black Country Singers – Final Thoughts
If you were ever under the illusion that Country music didn’t have African American artists, consider yourself healed of this affliction. These are only just a few, and I’m quite sure that there will be plenty more to follow.
Is there a famous black Country singer that you would have added or included? If so, let us know in the comments below.
Until next time, happy listening.